On a recent road trip in the upper Midwest we had the privilege of staying in Mitchell, South Dakota and of course we had to see this years version of the Corn Palace. The theme was “Rock of Ages” and was almost complete at the time of our visit. On the front of the building there is a picture of a guitarist and Willie Nelson constructed out of pieces of grain. Moving around the building there is a mural of Elvis, a singer, piano, person playing guitar, singers, and dancers to finish off the adjacent wall.
Most of the lighter portions are created using corn cobs along with wheat stems bundled together and sorghum stems bundled together created to give a darker contrast all working together to form these giant pieces of art. This is a very time consuming and laborious process which they undertake every summer creating a new theme covering two sides of the building.
This marks the third time I’ve been to this popular attraction. The last time was about 6 years ago with my first visit occurring a little over 7 years ago on my first trip to South Dakota. One of the surprises for me this summer was the change in domes on top of the building. Previous domes where solid and painted yellow and green that I remember. I like the new ones better.
More modern and interesting allowing light to play off of the metal creating some nice effects. We didn’t see it at night but from pictures I searched the Corn Palace lights up beautifully with the new metal domes. Another nice addition since I last visited was a second floor balcony allowing more light inside due to large windows and the ability to walk outside on a nice day such as the one we visited on.
It was the best of times …. uh … it was a cool and dreary day at ….. it was the worst of times … Let’s go back to that cool and dreary thing. It was July 3rd and the sun had not awakened yet as we were quickly getting up and packing the car for a day at Mt. Rushmore. We had heard about the Independence Day Fireworks being some of the best in the U.S. as they are broadcast in many different areas of the U.S. and even internationally and were eager to get our spot to enjoy a day of festivities.
Daylight was arriving to the Black Hills of South Dakota as we were driving towards this patriotic destination. Friends that had been there in years past for this celebration warned us to get there early or there would be no place to park or sit. Finally we passed the entrance sign to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial and began to wonder where all of the cars were. There were plenty of indications that a huge crowd was expected but no lines. Could we really be early enough to have avoided much of the traffic? Enlightenment quickly arrived as we neared the entrance and saw that the only way to get into the park was from the other direction of which the line of vehicles went as far as we could see. We continued driving down the other side of the mountain passing stopped cars waiting to enter the memorial. Finally the end of the line appeared so all we had to do was turn around and get in line.
It was at this time that traveling with children reminding me of the frustrations that can occur as one of them blurted out “I have to go to the bathroom! Can we stop!?” Great! Every minute we delay getting in line reduces our chances of parking inside the park. Well, waiting as long as we were going to have to it was better to not take a chance so I pulled over by a gas station and let out the children and my wife to take care of this issue while I turned the car around and got in line. As the line started to move I began to grow nervous as our missing passengers hadn’t returned yet. As I continued to creep further and further away from the gas station I kept looking for Karen and the kids with no sign of them. The line was about to move forward around a corner when finally here they came. Success! The children were once again comfortable and we were all together again without giving up too many spaces in line.
It was just after 8 a.m. when we entered Mt. Rushmore National Memorial Park. Relieved that we would be parking inside the grounds it was time to find a parking spot and then move as quickly as possible to find a spot to sit for the day. After several minutes more we had landed in our place to park for the day and there was still plenty of room for more cars. Moving on towards the monument we were again stalled due to security screening. Nothing we could do about this so just wait for our turn. Besides, everyone else needed to do the same thing. As we waited there were plenty of things to look at such as a huge screen monitor to watch all the festivities on. This monitor took up an entire semi-trailer! I had never seen a screen that big. Now I wish I had taken a picture of it. Once through security (which was similar to airport security except you could bring coolers through with larger amounts of liquid) it was on to find our living quarters to enjoy the Independence Day festivities. We were fortunate to get prime seating (using our own camping chairs of course) staring directly at the monument.
The entire area was filled with fog keeping the sun from beating down on us. As the morning grew older we could see people setting up the fireworks display we had so eagerly anticipated. After sitting for about on hour rain began to fall. It was at this time we started questioning if we should stay. It appeared as though the rain could continue much of the day and possibly cancel any fireworks display. This was confirmed by periodic weather updates given by park rangers and those watching the radar on their phones. To make matters worse the rain was basically defined to this area of the mountain and just kept building for much of the morning. We decided that there had been plenty of time planning this event that we should stay so off to get rain ponchos and rain coats and wait it out. After being out in the rain for several hours we would take turns going through different buildings to see the displays and find a reprieve from the rain.
Throughout the day there were many different activities planned including Native American dancing and ceremonies along with military aircraft flying over. Around the middle of the afternoon the rain slowed down and eventually stopped. Some of the aircraft flyovers had been canceled already but there were more scheduled and now that the rain had stopped their were indications that these could take place. The sky had began to clear and there was plenty of sun to dry us out and the hope for fireworks had returned making us extremely happy we decided to stay. As the daylight began to wane, so did the clear sky. Just in time fog had rolled into the mountains making it impossible to even see the monument let alone any fireworks. Our hopes of witnessing this spectacular display were once again dashed.
After a long day of waiting fireworks time had arrived. Unfortunately there was one problem! It was uncertain if we would be able see them. Time came and an announcement over the loudspeaker began to confirm our disappointment. They decided to test one of the shells to see how it would look. It was difficult to know if it was the firework or lightning as that is what if reminded me of. After this test the audience was asked if they should continue with the rest of the display. A loud resounding YES! was the crowds response. After a few more minutes the pyrotechnics display we were all waiting to see began. It reminding me of a mix of lightning and northern lights set to music. Once this had finished many members of the audience agreed that this was the best fireworks show we never got to see. As it turns out, this may also be the last Independence Day Fireworks display at Mt. Rushmore for some time to come. To read more about that go here ….
This was a day that tested our fortitude and rewarded our persistence with a unique light show created by humans and nature which will not be duplicated for a number of years if ever at Mt. Rushmore.